Sport pays tribute to ‘one-off ’ Mccririck
Fearless journalist found his niche as betting guru in front of TV camera, writes Marcus Armytage
John Mccririck, the former ITV and Channel 4 betting guru, bookmaker and journalist, died peacefully in his sleep yesterday. He was 79 and had been ill for some time.
Tributes flowed in yesterday, among them one from Sir Anthony Mccoy, who said: “John was just about the most recognisable figure in horse racing when I came to England. That says a lot about him – that he wasn’t a trainer or jockey. He had attitude, he had a voice and said what he thought, he wasn’t frightened of upsetting somebody.”
Nick Luck joined Channel
4 at a young age, and was almost taken under his wing by Mccririck. “You might think this massive character would be intimidating, but he was actually incredibly kind,” Luck said.
At the height of his career, with his bushy sideburns, extravagant clothes often topped off with a deerstalker hat, copious amounts of jewellery and a large cigar, Mccririck was for a long time better known even than the sport’s other great showman, Frankie Dettori. Of course, his occasional rants on television were not to everyone’s taste, but he knew his subject, betting, inside out and played up to his audience with an act that could be as serious as it was daft. Having spent much of his early life in Jersey, he ended up at Harrow School. After a stint in catering at the Dorchester, he was drawn to bookmaking. He then moved on to The Sporting Life, racing’s trade newspaper at the time. In 1978, he was named specialist writer of the year at the British Press Awards for, among other things, exposing the Rochester greyhound coup. A year later, he was campaigning journalist of the year after he proved the Tote was authorising bets after the off to reduce dividends.
It was, however, in front of the camera that he found his niche in life for 30 years, beginning with Derby day in 1981 when Shergar ran away with the race. He was part and parcel of racing coverage on ITV and then Channel 4 and was distraught to be put out to grass in 2012 because, he claimed, of old age.
His mainstay was his wife, Jenny, who drove him everywhere, managed him, cooked for him and stood by him every yard of the way. They were a great couple, who were rarely apart.
One of my best memories of “Big Mac” – he always called me “Mr Frisk” – was when we were guests of a betting firm at the Oval for the South Africa Test in 1994. It was a Sunday morning and Devon Malcolm had mopped up the opposition by lunch time and our hosts invited us to their offices about a mile away. I walked across the square with “Big Mac”, out through the exit and past the pub where several thousand cricket fans had gathered for a celebratory drink.
As we walked past, the noise and chatter abated for a few seconds. In the silence you could almost hear the double-take and them asking: “Is that John Mccririck? Yes it is.”
Then the loudest cheer erupted and they called on Mccririck to stand on a table and address them. There followed 10 minutes of hilarious interaction before we continued on our way, cricket fans and Mccririck equally satisfied.
In a world increasingly devoid of such creatures, Mccririck was an eccentric and huge character. There is no way of measuring it but I dare say he drew more people to the sport than anyone else. He was unique, a one-off, and most of us will miss him.
Obituary: Main section, P29
Showman: John Mccririck knew how to play up to his audience Caption caption